I chose A Clockwork Orange from the summer reading list because it was one of the better dystopian books that I had not yet read and it had been on my radar for a long time. Also, I had heard of its innovative style and intriguing colloquial language, so that piqued my interest as well. The book, both throughout my reading of it and after I had finished it, reminded me a little bit of A Catcher in the Rye. Although Alex’s mischief is much more extreme and cruel than Holden’s, both are troubled young souls wandering around the capitals of their respective countries (London and New York). Both however, amid their streaks of poor decisions and confusion, strongly hold on to a single vestige of purity and elevate it to a noble pedestal above the rest of their muddles lives. For Holden it is his innocent younger sister, Phoebe, while for Alex it is the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and other talented classical composers. However, the books differ from that point as Holden travels on a personal journey, while Alex is forcefully directed by the state onto a path of “righteousness”. A Clockwork Orange is one of the most incredible experiences in storytelling in my opinion because of the language style and usage. It is unique in the fact that it the only book written in English that I have had to translate the majority of narration and dialogue as I read along. Burgess creates a dystopian future set in London where young malchicks (adolescent gangsters) rule the city at night. These young thugs partake in acts of “ultraviolence”,which can range from looting to rape to murder. To the adults of the city, these teenagers are nefarious menaces who speak an almost foreign dialect and live to cause mayhem. However to the malchicks themselves, these sinister activities are almost a game to them. They are incredibly casual about their violence, and treat it as just another way to pass the time. For this reason among others, A Clockwork Orange appealed to me as I was interested in how the strong state control and its current atmosphere could so change the sentiments of the youth to lead them to consider violence a part of their daily routine. An example of this excellent storytelling can be found in this ironic passage that shows the lack of understanding of the youth by the adults. In this passage Alex talks about his appreciation of classical music contrasted against his observation that adults want the youth to be more civilized and that the medium to do this through is music. The irony is of course that that Alex truly loves beautiful, cultured music, yet he is one of the most violent teenagers on the street. Here is the passage itself:
There was music playing, a very nice malenky string quartet, my brothers, by Claudius Birdman, one that I knew well. I had to have a smeck, though, thinking of what I’d viddied once in of these like articles on Modern Youth, about how Modern Youth would be better off if A Lively Appreciation Of The Arts could be like encouraged. Great Music, it said, and Great Poetry would like quieten Modern Youth down and make Modern Youth more Civilized. Civilized my syphilised yarbles.
As one can see from the passage Alex has little respect for his “elders” and this feeling is reflected in the rest of the youth in London. The story itself is divided into three parts, the first deals with Alex’s criminal actions, the second with his arrest, imprisonment, and experimental “re-education” by the government where he is conditioned to become sick at even the thought of violence. The title itself reveals the most interesting bit of storytelling, as a clockwork orange means that the person whom this term is describing seems full of life and emotions but really he is only a clockwork toy that can do right or wrong and is controlled by the state. The state effectively takes his willpower (however bad it was in the first place it still did belong to him) and manages to make his life more difficult than it was before his imprisonment and “operation”. For instance one of the doctors transforming Alex says this after Alex says that he will no longer do ill after days of his torturous reeducation, “‘The heresy of an age of reason,’ or some slovos. ‘I see what is right and approve, but I do what is wrong. No, no, my boy, you must leave it all to us. But be cheerful about it. It will soon be all over. In less than a fortnight now you’ll be a free man.’
The state has completed taken away Alex’s decision-making process and he effectively becomes a pawn in their sprawling and convoluted political game. These themes are some of the more interesting ones throughout the novel, and are the reason that I enjoyed the book as much as I did.